Writing and Reading really go hand in hand, reinforcing and extending each other.
There are a range of writing activities that you can incorporate into your tutoring sessions with children at any age and writing level. The most important things to remember when introducing any of these activities is that writing should be viewed as:
- a way of expressing thoughts and feelings
- a way of communicating with others
Additionally, positive and continuous experiences with writing in a variety of ways, helps children learn and practice a number of skills, including phonics.
Unfortunately many children are reluctant to write because they have had little positive experience doing so and they are afraid of using incorrect spellings, or of writing letters that look sloppy. Just as in reading, beginning writers should be encouraged to focus on the meaning of what they want to say rather than the form so they can begin to think of themselves as capable of writing. Otherwise they will be unwilling to take the risks to put down their own ideas in any detail. Instead, they will simply stick to writing simple thoughts or words that they already know how to spell correctly. Eventually, as students become more comfortable and experienced with writing, the process of editing and re-writing can be introduced.
With this in mind, here are some ways to engage your students in writing:
- Invite the student to draw a picture and then write about it. To avoid spending all the time on drawing, you might set a time limit for this activity. You can suggest: "Lets make a plan. How about drawing a picture for 5 minutes, then write two (or some) sentences about it. OK?"
- Give your student a journal to write in regularly. For example, you many want to have a "journal writing time" for 5 or 10 minutes during each session. Students should be encouraged to write on any topic they wish: for Emergent and Early writers, illustrations with labels should be acceptable, or "interactive" writing, where you take turns doing the writing.
- Invite students to write about something personal that happened: a class trip, taking the dog to the Vet. Or relate the writing to a book you have just read together: change the ending, or write about a favorite part or character; or make up a new story with the same characters or same problem.
- Have your student write a note or letter to you (and you can write one back), or to a family member or teacher or friend.
- Encourage writing for other useful purposes. For example, if the student is planning a birthday party she can make a list of the things she'll need for the party. Or, have your student make a list of books he has read, or wants to read.
For students who are not writing words yet, or are just beginning, you can modify some of these activities:
- Your student can draw a picture and dictate a story (see Language Experience); you can encourage students to "pretend" write, or to write just one or two letters to represent a word (i.e.: "M" under a picture of Mommy -- you might need to help them hear the sound, or find the letter on a chart); you can then write the full word the child uses to describe his or her picture (i.e.: Mommy) and have the child trace over it.
- Suggest a "copy-cat" story for children who are just beginning to write. Have them write a story that is a take-off of a story you have just read. For example, if you've just read a version of "There was an old lady who swallowed a fly" then your student might write "There was an old cow who swallowed some hay... "
Always have students read over what they've written. (With a very emergent writer whose spelling is far from conventional, discreetly make a note to yourself so you'll remember what the text said).
- Give positive feedback on the content of their work once students have read through their writing. "That must have been fun to go to a birthday party" or "You did a good job of writing about your cat. I learned that he likes to sleep a lot. " At this stage, it is important to focus on the meaning of what was written rather than the form (spelling, or handwriting or punctuation) because we want students to know that writing is for conveying meaning first and foremost, and we want them to keep trying. As they become more comfortable and experienced, then the process of revising and editing can be introduced.
- Sometimes while rereading the students will catch missing words, or mixed up sentences. Encouraging them to correct their own work is a valuable experience and gives them a sense of independence and ownership of their writing. But don't expect them to correct everything. In fact, for very novice emergent writers who are just beginning to try writing, don't correct anything. For early writers, you might have them correct just one thing: a reversed letter, or adding a few more sounds to a word you think they can spell, or putting in a period. (To support further growth in spelling see Sample Games.)
Children are often reluctant to write because they feel they can't spell. Here are a few things to help:
- Remind them that you are interested in their ideas first, and you'll worry about spelling later -- and stick to that promise;
- Encourage them to use "invented spelling" (spelling words the best way they can) for now even if they just put one letter down to represent a whole word.
- Avoid talking about spelling as "correct" or "incorrect", "right" or "wrong." Remember that children learn to spell just the way they learn to talk and read, in stages, over time, with lots of experience and practice.
- Talk about how people learn to spell by doing a lot of reading and writing, and that there are lots of ways to learn how to spell words over time.
Talk about some of these ways to figure out spelling:
For Emergent and Early writers:
- Say a word and listen for the sounds, especially the beginning sound and then maybe the end sound.
- Think about where you saw the word and look for it in a book or around the room to copy
- Help the child use a picture - letter chart (i.e.: "A" and Apple, "B" and Box, etc)
For more advanced writers who are already writing fairly comfortably suggest the following:
- Close your eyes and see if you can remember the way the word looked
- Think of a word that rhymes with word you're trying to spell ("If you can spell cent, you can spell rent.")
- Write down the word three times, using three possible spellings, and see which one looks right.
- Think about parts of the word, which parts do you know? (i.e.: 'going' -- 'go/ing')
- Look in a dictionary or other book.